It is crazy how this opportunity even came up. Me and James were talking about our plans in Vietnam at our end-of-the-year faculty brunch (literally 2 days before we flew out) because we still had no set plans yet. No idea where we were going to go, for how many days, how we were going to get there, NOTHING. As we were discussing this at our table at the brunch, it just so happened we were sitting next to this parent of one of my students, who also serves on our school board and whose wife teaches at the school. While we were discussing is when he offered us this amazing opportunity. We didn't think twice and immediately accepted.
As promised, Phillip flew us to Denang where his mine is located and even put us up in an apartment he has there for workers to come get out of the mines from time to time. Phillip is one of the most interesting men I have ever met in my life and has had so many cool experiences, including traveling around the world with the president of Mexico, and it is evident the Lord has blessed him with money and Phillip continually tries to find ways to give back and glorify God with this blessing. Truly an inspirational man, and he completely spoiled us for the three days we were with him.
When the day came to actually visit the mine we had to get a really early start and left our apartment at 4:30 am. Reason being is that it took a while to get to the mine and we had to be done with our tour before the daily dynamite explosions at 4 pm. I think the drive to the mine was possibly the best part. First we took an extremely bumpy and winding road just to get to the base camp for the mountain, and I have a sneaking suspicion our driver was trying to set a new personal record time trial based on the way he was driving. Once we got to the base camp feeling a bit rattled and nauseous it was time for the fun part. To take us to the top of the mountain, since there were no roads, they hired these drivers on Russian motorcycles from the '60s. It really was an exciting fun ride, but there were definitely times where I thought "I hope we don't die". We climbed 60 degree inclines of jagged rocks, crossed rivers 3 to 4 feet deep, and all on a tiny old motorcycle. No matter how I try to describe the difficulty and ridiculousness of this ride, it will just not do it justice, but I want to know who was the person that said, "yep, I believe we could get a motorcycle up this thing!"
When we eventually got to the mine we were greeted by the security guards who are trained and experienced Muay Thai fighters, a.k.a. people you don't want to mess with. They then introduced us to man in charge of operations for the mine who was going to act as our tour guide. First they explained the gold extraction process, or how they get the gold from the rocks. The gold in this mine does not come in nugget size pieces, it actually comes in fine micro-particles that located within pieces of pyrite (or fool's gold). To get to the gold they first have to mine rocks from the mountain, which is done through dynamite and jack-hammers. The rocks are then brought to the "crusher" which turns the boulder sized rocks into pebbles. Once they become pebbles they are put into another crusher which pulverizes the pebbles into sand. In its sand form, the gold extraction process can then take place. They fill a new pit every day with sand and pump cyanide into the pit to be filtered through the sand and they repeat this process a few times. The cyanide is acting as a chemical to break off any other minerals attached to the gold and should leave pure gold particles in the sand. After the cyanide bath, they then pump zinc into the pit which has magnetic properties with gold and will attach itself to the gold. All that is left after that is to filter out the zinc/gold, burn off the zinc, and then they are left with pure gold. Pretty interesting.
After the tour of the extraction process we got to tour the actual mine. The mine was exactly as I had anticipated; cramped, dark, and damp. One of the geographers went with us and kept pointing out the many different gold veins that were running through the mountain. After about thirty minutes or so in the mine, one of the Filipino miners came to us and began pointing to his watch and saying "boom boom". That was all he had to say, and we were B-lining it out of the mine before the daily dynamite explosions started going off.
Before we had to make the equally scary decent back down the mountain on our Cold War era motorbikes, the miners cooked a delicious Vietnamese lunch for us. My favorite part of traveling is getting local experiences that aren't built up for tourist and seeing things others don't get to see. This is what made this visit to the mine extra special and such unique experience.
Waiting to cross the river
Going through the mine
This a point where I felt safe enough to take out my camera